jdeena

Never settle for what is…come tomorrow it will be what was

Tag: identity

Muslim Women, Stand Your Ground

Some people might argue that being a covered Muslim woman in America right now is just about the worse thing that could happen to me. With the heightened Islamaphobia and the attacks on Muslim at an all-time high, it is normal that any time I go out, I am told to be careful and watch my surroundings. Call me careless or irresponsible, but I haven’t taken heed of their warnings. Why? Because I don’t want to. In doing so, I will no longer be the carefree, fearless woman that I am. And because just like the islamaphobes don’t want the “terrorists to win”, I don’t want their ignorance to win either.

In wearing the hijab for twenty years now, I have become so comfortable in my identity that no amount of hate will make me second-guess my worth as an American. Yes, I am different. So is everyone else. To allow the fear instilled in me by my family and friends to take over my life would be counterproductive to my mission as a Muslim woman in this country. Instead of fading into the background of society, I feel more empowered to wear my hijab and venture out into the world. More than ever, we need to be visible and become the voice for Muslims, to speak out against bigotry and hate in order to educate the ignorant masses that surround us.

I know that there are many legitimate instances where Muslims have been targeted. I will not discount those. However, what bothers me lately are the Muslims who have decided to retreat into safer waters by blending into society. For example, some people have suggested that women in hijab should not make their hijab so apparent- such as wearing a hat or hoodie instead so as not to be a target. Or having men shave their beards so as not to appear menacing. To those people I say: you are a part of the problem. What we need now more than ever is to be ourselves. Changing and becoming less visibly Muslim will not change the conversation around Islam in America.

When it comes to Muslim women in hijab, another thing we need is support from our Muslim male allies. Instead of voicing your concerns for us after every terror attack, how about you voice your admiration for us being unapologetically ourselves. You know that after 9-11, my father suggested to my sister an I to take off our hijabs if we felt scared for our lives. We both looked at each other and had the same answer: never. To take it off would allow hate to win. And for me, that decision became the gateway to years of advocacy where I was invited to speak in non-Muslim communities and all around my college campus to teach people about Islam. THAT is what we need now.

Let me give you a real example. Yesterday, my sister called me and told me she finally got a job in her new city, Knoxville, Tennessee. She wears hijab, so we were worried that she would face discrimination. It was her second day on the job, and a client apparently was upset that she was working there, and he voiced his concerns to a manager. My sister overheard the strained conversation and after the client left, she asked the manager what the conversation was about. Her manager seemed hesitant to relay the information, but my sister assured her there was nothing she hadn’t heard before. So the manager told her that the client was saying that “her kind doesn’t belong here” and that she needed to “go back to where she came from.” And then the manager burst into tears.

My sister asked her why she was crying, and she said she just doesn’t like how hateful people are. My sister consoled her and told her it was okay- that most people say these things because they are uneducated. And from that incident, my sister was able to start a conversation with her manager about Muslims and hijab. She showed her a picture from her wedding and told the woman that wearing hijab on her wedding day made her feel like the most beautiful woman in the world. And that in wearing the hijab for the last 20 years, she has become so much more secure in herself and her identity. The manager was impressed by how my sister turned an awful situation into a teachable moment, and did so with grace and compassion.

It is so easy for us to get upset when someone makes a hateful remark about our hijab. It takes a very strong woman to turn a bad situation into a good one. My sister is one of the strongest women I know, and I admire her for her ability to act with grace under pressure. And now, she has the opportunity to teach her colleagues at her new job about Islam, which never would have happened if not for the reaction of that client.

So, to all my fellow Muslims out there: do not be frightened by the sensationalization of the hate you see online. Yes, we are experiencing the highest instances of Islamophobia since 9-11, but that does not mean that we cannot rise above and use this time to teach others about who we are. Do not cower in fear. Be strong and humble, and while it is smart to stay aware of these issues, do not let it diminish your identity. After all, America is the land of the free, where freedom of religion is a right. So use your voice and make yourself visible. It’s the only way we can stand united against hate.

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“I Speak for Myself”

Ahhhh…finally! I have felt so lost without my writing the last few weeks. I apologize for this dry spell but school had kept me so busy with end-of-the-semester assignments, and I took my last final this morning. So I am DONE!

So much has happened since the last time I blogged, and it was so hard for me to choose one topic to discuss this time around and so this blog may jump around a bit. And it may be long, so bear with me.

It comes as no surprise that I want to discuss the reactions and debates that ensued after the “Mipsterz” video went viral. In case you missed it, I’ll post it below for you to watch. The premise of the video was basically a group of Muslim hipsters that have formed a group based out of Washington DC, and they showed themselves in everyday scenarios: skateboarding, taking selfies, laughing and hanging out in groups, etc. The song playing in the background is Jay Z’s “Somewhere in America,” and I’m not Jay Z fan, but the it has a good enough beat. However, it was the unedited version which threw some people for a loop. Whatevs. That’s not the only thing that upset people though.

One online writer posted an article titled “Somewhere in America Muslim Women are Cool,” where she went on to discuss the many “errors” in representation of Islam and Muslim women in the video. Now, I believe everyone should have freedom of speech and their right to an opinion; however, she was demeaning in her comments. She said the women were being sexualized, objectified, and the video didn’t really do anything but show a one-sided image of Muslim women. Well, yea….hence the title “Mipsterz.” Not every Muslim woman can identify with being a hipster; the women in this video clearly felt that they did. No big deal. As for being objectified? The girls were dressed in their own style willingly. No one told them what to wear. So if you felt that a girl’s pants were too tight, or her top too flashy….well, I’m sorry. That’s her style.

I actually know a few of the girls in the video, and when I watched it I felt so proud. Not only that, I felt that I could identify with them. Although I don’t consider myself a hipster, I do have my own style of hijab that has evolved over the years into something I am now comfortable with. Wearing hijab for 17 years it was always hard to balance Islam and my American identity. And when people say we don’t need to act “American” I must disagree. We live here; why shouldn’t we adapt? We can still keep our culture and religion. To me it seems like the ones that are threatened by embracing an American identity are the ones whose faith is weak. If you felt secure, you wouldn’t have an issue incorporating American culture as well.

But I digress.

Anyways, after that article came out, all hell broke loose. Facebook was filled with shares of the article, the video, and a follow-up article posted days after the initial one, titled “Somewhere in America, Muslim Women are Being Shamed.” And it was a good article too. Everything I wanted to say was said. Muslim fashion bloggers posted their opinions, as they too are always being attacked for their “incorrect” representation of Islam. To me, I felt like FINALLY, an issue that has plagued our communities has come to light. The problem with living in America in the age of social media is that everyone feels like the Big Man behind a screen. Words are hurled at fellow sisters, disguised as “advice,” but are really meant to judge and criticize openly with no repercussions. Bottom line is, no one can judge another person.

Oh, I know what people are thinking. Some girls I know even posted their thoughts on that under my status, saying things like “well, only God can judge BUT we know how she is dressed is wrong.” Um, no….we DON’T know that. Because you know what? We don’t know what is in her heart. We don’t know at what point she is in her spiritual journey. In fact, she might actually be at a higher level than you, even though you cover your hair. Yes, her neck might be showing, or the front part of her hair, or a sliver of her arm. That, however, does not give you the right to put her on blast on social networks for everyone to read. Come to think of it, that behavior doesn’t seem very Islamic to me, and yet YOU are judging HER? Give me a break.

That brings me to my last point (maybe). I am so shocked and appalled at the amount of negativity Muslim women aim at each other. No, it’s not all, but a significant enough amount that I have noticed. As I said, I follow many of the Muslim fashion bloggers on Instagram, and it just amazes me all of the negative comments I read. Again, it is so easy to hide behind a screen, and I doubt any of these women would dare to utter such hurtful comments face-to-face (at least I hope not). These negative comments are what drive our own AWAY from the religion. When a girl decides to wear the hijab, and then gets attacked on Facebook or Instagram for her style of dress, it makes her feel ashamed. I know one girl in particular who started off her fashion blog with hijab, endured many awful comments, and ended up taking off the hijab. The funny part is that once she took it off, the comments STILL remained judgmental and ugly, this time criticizing the fact that she took off the hijab.

Ok, wait. First, you don’t like the way she wears hijab, and nag her to the point she takes it off….and now that she has taken it off, you nag her even more. I don’t get it! I say leave her be, and focus on yourself. And while we all like to think we’ve achieved perfection, chances are, you haven’t. This particular blogger has since tried to wear hijab again, and of course the critics came out in droves. She has since made a statement that her wearing the hijab is a journey, and for everyone to respect her. Which I feel is admirable.It’s a personal journey that no one should feel compelled to comment on.

I titled this post “I Speak for Myself” which is both true as well as a title of a book. I received this book as a gift from a non-Muslim last year, as he saw my struggles in attaining the “right” identity. This book tells the stories of 40 Muslim American women from all backgrounds and in different professions. It talk about their journey to finding their identity and some of the struggles they faced. The common theme, however, is that all the women recognize that while they are all Muslim, their story is just that- theirs. Each story speaks to that individual woman. We are all Muslims, yes; however the thing that makes us so beautiful is our differences, and even more so, our acceptance of those difference amongst our sisters.

Link to Mipsterz video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3Nq0NzRrfE